The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ has become commonly associated with the war and subsequent collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Ethnic cleansing is mostly the desire for the forceful removal or destruction of one particular ethnic group in a geographical area. There is some overlap between the terms ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’, and it is often difficult to distinguish between them due to the level of violence and procedures being similar in both.
Photo: Thomas Matthias
Mass murder, terrorising unarmed civilians, the causing of famine and spreading of disease, and mass rape are among the many ways ethnic cleansing can be carried out. The aim is to completely eliminate all traces of an ethnic group from the region in question, and simultaneously to render reproduction and resettlement impossible.
The main motive for ethnic cleansing is not primarily the complete destruction of a particular ethnic group – as is the case with genocide –, but rather the acquisition of territory. In theory, when the desired land is claimed (read: when the victims have fled), the murder and terror are brought to an end – as there would be no further desire/need for the victimised group’s destruction. On the other hand, it is often the case that ethnic cleansing results in genocide. As such, neither term can be fully distinguished from the other.
Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.
 Spencer (2012) S. 11,12